An interview with author and illustrator Heath McKenzie

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  Published on Wednesday, 05 February 2020

An interview with author and illustrator Heath McKenzie

Library Home  >  Profiles & Interviews
  Published on Wednesday, 05 February 2020
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Heath McKenzie puts the pictures in picture books. 

He’s illustrated countless titles for children and has worked with some of Australia’s best-known authors, including Andy Lee and Anh Do, but his talents don’t stop there! Heath has also written a number of stories, and his brand-new picture book, Zoo School is available now. 

The creative dynamo took time out from his wild schedule to explain how he brings his funny, playful characters to life.  

Thanks for your time, Heath. Could tell us what Zoo School is about and why preschoolers will love this story? 

Thanks for having me! Zoo School is a sequel to 2018’s Zoo House and continues the adventures of its main characters, Ava and Oscar (based VERY much on my own kids – Ava and Oscar!). 

In this story, it becomes quickly apparent that their school has been overrun by zoo animals and that they’re going to have to do something about it. They’re going to need to find a way to decide who gets to stay – animals or people – or possibly find a way for everyone to get along and attend the school together.

You wrote and illustrated Zoo School. What was the creative process to take this book from idea to print?  

The process actually began through discussion of where the story could go beyond Zoo House. The idea of a school popped up and ideas began to flow! 

The text was written first and the story went through a change or two along the way – most specifically the ending – but the original ideas remained. It was just reshaped a little. 

From there, given the characters and look of the world was already established, it wasn’t too tricky to leap into the rough art and onto finals! The challenge came when I decided to put my daughter’s school in as the location and then include some familiar faces from the school community – always flatteringly, of course!

You’ve illustrated lots of children’s books, including Andy Lee’s DO NOT OPEN THIS BOOK, Anh Do’s There’s a Big Green Frog in the Toilet and Tim Cahill’s Tiny Timmy soccer-themed series. What are some funny or interesting experiences you’ve had when working with these authors?

Quite often when solely illustrating, it’s a very isolated process. I discuss things with the editor and the author does the same, so we rarely meet! 

I’ve always received positive feedback from both Anh and Tim which is lovely. 

Andy, on the other hand, is a different story in that he’s very collaborative. We’ll meet numerous times throughout the process to discuss the roughs and edits, then final art and any tweaks and edits required from there. 

A highlight of this process is that now and then, in an effort to explain the facial expression he’d like to see on Wizz (the DO NOT OPEN… main character), Andy will text a selfie of himself pulling the face. So, over four books I’ve collected an entertaining little photo library of Andy pulling ridiculous faces!

Apart from Zoo House, Zoo School and your other titles, what picture books do you recommend for ages 3+ and why?

This is a big question! There are so many great books out there. But from personal experience, from what we read at home, a clear favourite for my daughter is the series of younger, more illustrated Paddington Bear stories by Michael Bond. They’re longer than a picture book, but not tooooo long, so are a nice way to ease children into listening to more text-heavy stories. 

And for my son, Oi Frog! and the other Oi! books by Kes Gray and Jim Field are a standout favourite. Great repetition and hilarious illustrations throughout!

How do you make story time engaging and fun for your children? 

I’ve found that choosing books based on their interests is always a winner. However, I also try to give different books I’ve chosen myself a go – things I think they might enjoy, but just don’t know it yet! 

My children won’t always be into them but stretching those little boundaries of interest often pays off and they find they do enjoy something beyond their immediate interests. I take a little ‘variety is the spice of life’ attitude! 

WIN a wild book pack!

Thanks to Scholastic, we have 3 book packs to give away. Each one contains a copy of Zoo School by Heath McKenzie and The Wonderful Wisdom of Ants by Philip Bunting. 

You can buy these new releases at Scholastic The Store or send us an email for your chance to win. 

To enter the comp, just tell us in 25 words or less what your child’s favourite book is and why.

Email your answer to competition@careforkids.com.au by Friday, 28 February 2020.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 03 February 2020

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